Clark Rucker loved to tinker from an early age.
As a youth, between the ages of 5 and 10, he was obsessed with technology and had an insatiable desire to know how things worked.
“When I was little, my fascination led me to take things apart: radios, lamps, etc… just to see how they worked” Rucker said. “Sometimes, I couldn’t put them back together, and Mom was not too happy about that.”
The early fascination combined with an aptitude for math and science and a high school physics teacher who steered him in the right direction turned into a 43-year career in engineering. Throughout his career, he has been a tireless advocate and mentor in helping students find their path through college and into their career.
While Rucker (’83, engineering technology) cruised through high school, his first term at Cal Poly Pomona proved to be a tough one. The San Diego native was struggling academically and missed his family and friends back home.
He sat down and had a deep conversation with his father, who encouraged Rucker to stick it out for the first year. Rucker buckled down and got more involved on campus.
“At the end of the first year, that summer, Mom and Dad and I talked,” he said. “I went from night to day. I enjoyed my first year. I made a lot of friends. CPP was a great learning environment for me.”
Rucker went on to have a storied engineering career in the aerospace industry and has left his imprint all over Cal Poly Pomona – from mentoring students to serving on advisory boards to speaking at events. It is in recognition of his dedication that Rucker will receive an Honorary Doctor of Science degree at Commencement in May.
He recalled that he was visiting his uncle in Las Vegas when he received the call from President Soraya M. Coley notifying him of the honorary doctorate.
“Receiving a recognition like this doesn’t come very often. It doesn’t come to many, and I have been told by some of my associates that being an African American, it is very rare in the CSU system,” Rucker said. “I am certainly very appreciative of it and honored by it, but the word humbled probably is the best way to describe how I felt when President Coley called me.”
Rucker had an early start on his engineering career. As an undergraduate, he took on a part-time job with General Dynamics as a test technician on the company’s Standard Missile & Phalanx Weapon System programs. He recalled sitting in his dorm room, listening to the radio and hearing an advertisement that General Dynamics in Pomona was hiring. He grabbed his resume, hopped on his moped scooter and headed over to the company, which was then at State Route 71 and Mission Boulevard, and was interviewed and hired on the spot.
A year after obtaining his Bachelor of Science in engineering technology, he joined the Systems Engineering/Reliability team at Northrop Grumman working on the B-2 aircraft program. Five years later, he went to work for McDonnell Douglas/Boeing. He served as the director of Phantom Works Quality, Boeing Defense, Space and Security and retired after 33 years with the company.
Rucker also has made significant philanthropic contributions. From 2019 to 2022, he served as chair of the College of Engineering’s Dean’s Leadership Board. During his tenure, the board hosted seven virtual company tours, a four-part seminar series and a huge on-campus mentorship luncheon for hundreds of engineering students.
He also played a key role as a Boeing employee, acting as a liaison for the company and directing Boeing’s annual philanthropic support to Cal Poly Pomona.
The husband to wife Ann, a retired teacher, and father to son Christopher, a landscape architect, and daughter Candace, a Salesforce corporate communications specialist, also has mentored countless students at the university throughout his career and has given several lectures as a guest speaker. He has helped students polish their resumes, and land career-starting positions at several companies while frequently participating in events hosted by student clubs and other organizations – including the Maximizing Engineering Potential-Women in Science and Engineering program, the Veterans Resource Center and the Black Alumni and Friends chapter.
“When it comes to supporting CPP students and trying to help make things better not just for students, but faculty and staff as well, I am very passionate about it,” said Rucker. “Much of it came from my father who began his career as a military police officer in the Air Force, became a police detective for San Diego PD and was an artist his entire life. My dad touched a lot of people during his life and left a legacy when he passed 20 years ago. All that I am doing now is following in his footsteps.”
In 2017, Rucker earned the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award, and in 2019, he was inducted into the College of Engineering Hall of Fame.
In addition, Rucker is a member of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, or the Boulé, the oldest continuously existing Greek-letter post-graduate fraternity primarily for Black professional men. Rucker co-created an educational youth program through his fraternity that is focused on encouraging students to pursue careers in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) and hosts an annual Career STEAMposium in Pasadena that features Cal Poly Pomona student organizations.
President Coley praised Rucker for his tireless dedication to the students and the university.
“Clark Rucker has had a far-reaching and immeasurable impact on the lives of students, staff and faculty on campus. We have bonded over our mutual care for students, and I greatly admire how he champions their growth with boundless energy and connects them with opportunities, said President Coley. “His dedication to Cal Poly Pomona and his embodiment of the university’s commitment to student success makes him most worthy of this recognition.”